Consider the box.

An unremarkable vessel. An inconsequential container.  The thing you must rip, cut, tear, or surmount in order to get to what really matters: the item inside.  

So you can see why some retailers and brands might think that packaging - while necessary - isn’t really something to invest a lot of time, money, or effort in, because how much could consumers possibly care?

Well, I am here to tell you that they do care about packaging. And they care a lot more than you might think.

Sure, I’m biased. Sealed Air built a 50-plus-year-old business on selling packaging so of course we think it matters.

But guess what - I’ve got proof.

We conducted a Harris Poll survey of more than 2,000 U.S. consumers ages 18 and up. Here’s what we found out:

  • 66% of Americans believe that an item’s packaging tells them something about how much the brand cares about them
  • 59% believe the retailer and the package carrier are equally responsible for damage to a product that was ordered online
  • 77% of consumers are of the opinion that packaging does and should reflect the environmental values of the brand they’re buying from

Taken separately, each of these statistics lends credibility to the idea that consumers do care about packaging and the role it plays in protecting the items they paid for.

But together, they tell a much more powerful story:  sustainable packaging practices aren’t as simple as swapping out peanuts for something recyclable or biodegradable - it’s much bigger than that.

It’s about damage.  Here’s why:

There are no barriers anymore as to what can be bought online. If you want it, chances are it can be purchased and shipped to your home.

It’s honestly a modern, commercial miracle.  It’s the kind of fully-enabled small parcel economy that we helped to unlock more than 50 years ago with the invention of Bubble Wrap, and it’s grown in ways we could have never imagined.

But that explosive growth means that a lot of fragile, heavy, and oddly-shaped items are now being put through a delivery chain that wasn’t designed to handle them, and in packaging solutions that weren’t designed to fit them.

It also means that there are just more items, period. More items getting packed on to trucks and into the cargo bays of airplanes and getting handled day in and day out to get where they are going.

The result: damage, damage, and more damage.

Reducing that damage isn’t just a customer experience imperative - it’s also a sustainability imperative.

Why?

Because there is no amount of recyclable, biodegradable, resuable packaging that any of our expert engineers in any of our labs around the world could design that can counteract the increased carbon footprint of a damaged item.

Damaged items have to get back on a truck or back on a plane and go back to their origin point.

Damaged items have to get rebuilt, repaired, restocked, rehandled, and sometimes they just get relegated to the landfill.

Damaged items have to get reshipped, making another journey through the supply chain, in another box filled with packing materials that will have to be reused, recycled, or disposed of.

Take for example a laptop computer like the one that many of you are probably using to read this post. 

According to data publicly shared by Apple, manufacturing and shipping a single laptop computer creates approximately 460 kg of CO2e emissions.

If that item is damaged in transit and has to make a return trip and be rebuilt, repaired, and reshipped that number goes up anywhere from 150 to another 200 kg of CO2e.

That’s as much as a 43% increase. For just a single computer.

There were approximately 194 million laptops shipped worldwide in 2015 alone (per Statista). That’s not even including tablets or desktop PCs.

If you want to be a more sustainable company, reducing damage is the MOST impactful thing you can do.

If you want to be a more sustainable company, reducing damage is the most impactful thing you can do.

If you can do it with packaging materials that are also reusable, recyclable, and responsible, so much the better. Performance and sustainability are not and should not be mutually exclusive.

Other posts from Ken Chrisman